Love in the time of COVID-19

For university students, dating does not always mean heartfelt conversations over candlelit dinners. In fact, dating rarely means going on dates at all. 

Instead, dating can mean late night hookups after long hours spent in the library. It can mean watching Netflix to fill the silence, and avoiding labels in a desperate attempt to keep things casual and to stifle any real emotions that might swell up inside.

But now the COVID-19 pandemic has forced couples to enter relatively unexplored territory: The digital realm, full of awkward Zoom calls and lengthy text conversations. This may not seem like a romantic atmosphere, but, believe it or not, online dating has actually brought many couples closer together despite their physical distance—or maybe because of it. 

To explore this transition into primarily online dating, The McGill Tribune chatted with Julian*, a U2 engineering student. He started hooking up with Nikki* only weeks before the pandemic struck in March. Suddenly, the simplicity of their relationship was gone. Faced with the choice of either breaking up or committing to a long-distance relationship after being together for less than a month, they decided to give long-distance a shot.

Unsurprisingly, long-distance changed the nature of Julian and Nikki’s relationship. With casual encounters no longer an option, the couple had to establish a different kind of intimacy. 

“Since we couldn’t be physical anymore, we started to talk over FaceTime or Zoom almost every day,” Julian said. “It forced us to have real conversations and get to know each other even more. It was nice having her to rely on [during the pandemic.] We grew closer [and] established a [deeper] emotional connection.” 

When Nikki returned to Montreal in July, Julian decided to quarantine with her for two weeks—a commitment he could have never made without hundreds of Zoom calls beforehand. As a result of the pandemic, Julian and Nikki were ready to make a real commitment.

Pierre*, U4 Psychology, was in a similar situation. He and Adele* dated for a couple months before the pandemic, but never made it “official.” 

“I wasn’t comfortable labelling [our relationship] before,” Pierre said. “It was always a grey area.” 

The night before they each left Montreal, Pierre and Adele were finally forced to define what they really were. They agreed that it would be easier to just be friends and stop talking to give each other space to heal.

Only weeks after breaking up, Pierre already regretted his decision. He missed Adele. 

“I didn’t know just how much I cared about her until I stopped talking to her altogether,” Pierre said. “I definitely took our relationship for granted before.” 

After a long month of silence, Pierre finally gained the courage to contact Adele—only to discover that she was planning on reaching out that same day. The two started talking again and agreed that long-distance dating actually brought them closer together than ever before. 

Today, both Pierre and Adele are back in Montreal, but had to wait until the end of Adele’s quarantine to see one another. However, Pierre surprised Adele by making a homemade ice cream cake for her birthday and dropping it off on her back doorstep. 

More stories like Pierre or Julian’s are available on The Social Distance Project. This site gives couples a virtual space to anonymously discuss how the pandemic has altered their dating experiences—either for better or for worse. COVID-19 has left many of us catching feelings like never before, but hopefully feelings will be the only thing you’re catching this fall.

*Last names omitted for privacy.

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